Edmonton on Parade: The Problem with Capital Ex

When I saw the story announcing the grand marshal for Edmonton’s Capital Ex Parade, I shook my head.

Later, I read this Gig City story details Edmonton’s long history with (unsuccessful and ill-conceived) name changes for various fixtures and events. In particular, its comments about Klondike Days, the long-time precursor to Capital Ex, ring true – “Hey, it was stupid, but it was all we had.”

Capital EX Parade

Now, Capital Ex is undergoing another name change. Gig City points out that six finalists – which I pray are better than this list of six – for the new name will be unveiled this week, and voted on by citizens.

So, our festival will undergo another name change and possibly wholesale brand changes along with it. In the meantime, this year’s festival will go on, celebrating Edmonton’s, uh, link to Motown and soul?

Confused? So am I in a way. In another way, I’m completely not. Now, I’m sure Jack Ashford is a nice and talented individual, but I don’t see what he has to do with Edmonton. While fairs have come a long way from their primarily agricultural, commercial, and/or religious roots, a local connection has and continues to be a cornerstone of these events. I just don’t see what the theme or parade marshal have to do with Edmonton. In fact, I find it plausible that this might be Jack Ashford’s first ever visit to Edmonton.

Yet, this also seems appropriate. Many civic institutions seem to have a permanent want for a newer and ‘better’ identity. What we are isn’t good enough. What we need is something “world class”, or something that will one-up Calgary (or whoever), or give us satisfaction over central Canadian straw men.

Almost paradoxically, the city has done an amazing job of cultivating grassroots, focused initiatives. The rest of the summer features festivals of everything from folk music to theater to Caribbean culture. And they’re all really good. Within this context of targeted festivals, I see an opening for Capital Ex to tell the story of Edmonton as a whole.

I think there’s room to be aspirational. Certainly, the best festivals of this type inherently rely to some extent on revisionist history. Yet, like all successful myths, they are based on some element of truth. If Capital Ex is going to succeed, it needs to identify what gives Edmonton its identity, and find a story worth telling within that.